* ‘아시아엔’ 해외 필진 기고문 한글요약본과 원문을 게재합니다.
국경 넘나드는 피난민의 고달픈 삶
작가로 유명한 이사벨 아옌데·안네 프랑크·빅토르 위고·블라디미르 나보코프의 공통점은 무엇일까? 모두 피난민이라는 점이다. 피난민들은 정치적·사회적·경제적 이유로 모국을 떠났다. 피난민들은 낯선 곳에 정착해 새로운 언어와 관습을 익히고, 난민을 반기지 않는 곳에서 새로운 삶을 꾸려나간다. 1951년 유엔고등난민고등판무관실은 피난민을 ‘인종·종교·국적·그가 속한 사회집단에서의 갈등·정치적 이유로 박해당해 타국에서 거주하며, 고국으로 돌아가기 어려운 사람’이라 정의했다.
인류 역사상 피난으로 가장 고통 받은 집단은 팔레스타인 피난민과 나치정권 피난민이며, 최근의 시리아 내전 역시 많은 이들에게 상처를 남겼다. 아시아에선 여러 국가가 난민을 받아주지만, 그보다 더 많은 국가들이 난민을 양산한다. 베트남·캄보디아·라오스·타이·부탄·스리랑카 등지에서 피난민이 발생하고 반대로 파키스탄·인도·방글라데시·네팔 등은 피난민을 수용하고 있다. 물론 아시아의 피난민 중 널리 알려진 사람들도 있다. 베트남 피난민 시엥 반트랑은 이러닝사 ‘아이런’을 설립했고, 홍콩 삼합회의 위협에서 벗어나 미국으로 망명한 성룡은 할리우드 스타가 됐다. 캄보디아 킬링필드에서 살아남은 루앙 웅은 인권운동가이자 작가로 활동하고 있다.
피난민이 직접 저술하거나 그들의 이야기를 다룬 책은 피난의 고통을 전달한다. 호주로 망명한 베트남 작가 남 레가 쓴 <보트>는 베트남과 전세계를 넘나드는 피난민들의 이야기를 풀어낸다. 프랑스로 망명한 중국인 작가 가오 싱지안은 <탈출, 생사의 기로에 선 남자>라는 저서에서 마오쩌둥 치하에서 난민들이 겪은 트라우마를 그린다. 아시아를 비롯한 전세계 피난민 작가들은 체험을 바탕으로, 피난민이 마주하는 고난과 두려움, 낯선 환경에서의 장애 극복 과정을 생생히 묘사한다.
Across the borders: Stories of Asian refugees
What could writers like Isabel Allende, Anna Frank, Victor Hugo, Vladimir Nobokov and others have in common? They are all refugees. Refugees all had different reasons to flee their countries, whether it was for political, social, or economical reasons. Not all refugees had it easy settling in a new environment, learning new languages and social norms, and building a new life within a society, which might already hate them.
What is a refugee? According to research by Janet Tyler, a research coordinator in Australia and specialized in refugee studies, the 1951 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ website states: “A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or, unwilling because of such fears, to go back to his country.”
Hosting and creating refugees
Some fled their countries because of personal reasons, like a family member threatening them; some escaped their countries’ cruel government like the Nazi-Germany refugees. Others escaped purely because of clashing political or religious views with the government. While most of the refugees escaped from their countries, they hoped to find better living conditions in another place, in a place they would call home, where their children could live. It should also be noted that refugees are different from immigrants, because refugees have darker pasts, and there is a higher possibility that they were exposed to terror and trauma, which the immigrants did not have to go through.
The most famous refugees in history have to be the Palestinians and the Nazi -Germany refugees, though currently Syrian refugees are increasing. In Asia, a lot of countries have hosted refugees, while more countries created them. Some of the notable names in Asia who fled their home countries are Sieng van Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who founded the educational website iLearn; Jackie Chan, who fled to the U.S. after being threatened with death from the triads in Hong Kong; Loung Ung, a Cambodian activist and author who survived the killing fields in her country; and many others who fled and passed on their stories in books, movies, or documentaries.
Many books, novels and stories have been written about and by refugees, and many movies were made about them as well. Literature allows for depth to be added to the true stories and for the details about these people’s lives to be told before and after immigration. It is important to note that most refugees and immigrants in Asia come from countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Bhutan and Sri Lanka amongst many others, while Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are amongst the Asian countries receiving refugees, besides other countries in Europe, Australia, and the U.S.
Among books and novels written on refugees and by them, one of the most important types of work that truly convey the refugees’ stories are picture books. Although they might be directed at children, they are a perfect way of going deeper into the stories of the people who left their countries. Chachaji’s Cup by Uma Krishnaswami and Soumya Sitaraman tells the story of a boy called Neel, who learns his family history and about the partition of India and Pakistan from his great uncle Chachaji through refugee stories told over a beloved old cup.
Moving on to Laos, Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha tells the story of the author Dia and her childhood in her country Laos, and her family’s escape to a refugee camp in Thailand. This book is important in exploring the most important characteristics of the Hmong people, who traveled from China to Laos in search of freedom, and their history through the story cloth stitched by Dia’s uncle and aunt.
Refugee stories in picture books
Back to Pakistan, Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed tells the story of two Afghani girls, Lina and Feroza, who are living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, as they share a precious pair of sandals brought by relief workers. This book was inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about kids like her.
Now going to Vietnam, Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran and Ann Phong tells a different refugee story: not about Vietnamese children coming to the U.S., but of a child of those refugees, called Ami Chi, who goes to visit the country her parents still call home. It focuses on the gap between generations and shows what “home” really means.
Another book from Vietnam is Leaving Vietnam by Sarah Kilborne and Melissa Sweet; it tells the story of a boy named Tuan Ngo and his father, who endure danger and difficulties as they travel by boat from Vietnam, spend days at sea, and months in a refugee camp.
The Lotus Seed is yet another Vietnamese story by Sherry Garland and Tatsuro Kiuchi about a Vietnamese girl forced to leave Vietnam. She takes a lotus seed with her to remind her of her homeland.
Then moving to Nepal, Little Dog Moon by Maxine Trottier, Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson, tells the story of a young monk who is moved by the bravery of two children traveling alone from Tibet to get their freedom in Nepal. He then offers the help of his dog, Moon, who guards and guides them through the mountain paths.
Traveling to Korea, My Freedom Trip by Frances and Ginger Park and Debra Reid Jenkins tells the story of the authors’ mother, who escaped from North Korea to South Korea, just prior to the outbreak of the Korean War, in hope to join her father on the other side.
Another Hmong story is introduced in The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Dietz Shea, as she tells the story of a young Hmong girl in a Thai refugee camp in the mid 1970s. As can be seen in their stories, the Hmongs have a strong tradition of sewing and making clothes.
Of course, not only picture books have dealt with refugees. Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis includes interviews with twenty young Iraqi children who left their homeland. They express their fears and struggles in rebuilding their lives in a new country as refugees of war. Missing Boundaries by Suba Chandran is a book that covers refugees and immigrants all over Asia.
But the most important form of literature that has dealt with refugees is the novel. This may be due to their charm of mixing true events with engaging fiction. Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson is a novel that follows the Afghani girl Mahtab, as she is forced to flee her country with her family, goes to Pakistan, and later moves to Australia. Along the journey, she wonders if she will ever have a place she could call home.
Another Afghani story is introduced in Shooting Kabul by N.H Senzai, which tells the story of 11-year-old Fadi and his family, as they escape Afghanistan, which is controlled by the Taliban. The plot thickens when Fadi decides to return to the Pakistani refugee camp, where his little sister was accidentally left behind.
Then moving to Vietnam, Onion Tears by Dianna Kidd tells the story of Nam-Huong, a young Vietnamese girl trying to adjust to her life with her new family in Australia and overcome the grief of losing her family.
Of course one cannot simply go through refugees in Asia without pointing out some of the most prominent works written by Asian refugees. The Boat by the Vietnamese author Nam Le, who came to Australia as a refugee, is a collection of stories that goes all over the world; most of them take the author’s heroes back to Vietnam. Other works are Escape and The Man who Questions Death by the Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, who had immigrated to France. These two plays express the author’s own trauma in China under Mao’s regime and in Europe.
In all of the works written be refugees, especially Asian refugees, one can see the traumas and fears they have been through, how they overcame obstacles in their new environments such as the language obstacle, and how they managed to succeed and have a voice of their own as they deliver their own stories.